What is Self-Awareness and Why Is It Important

by Gideon Hanekom
July 3, 2018

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What is self-awareness and why is it important? Firstly, if any person wants to make any kind of improvement in their life, they have to start with self-awareness. 

Having self-awareness doesn’t solve all your challenges in life, but it gives you an accurate starting point, which I call “truth.”

That then allows you to develop a plan or strategy for what needs to happen for improving a specific area of your life.

But first, what is self-awareness?

Having self-awareness means that you have knowledge of yourself.

You understand your habits, likes, dislikes, the way you view the world, and your needs.

You know what you want in life and have an understanding of your emotional responses.

Socrates’ famous quote “know thyself” is a directive to develop self-awareness.

What is self-awareness and why is it important

According to PositivePsychologyProgram.com, the psychological study of self-awareness can be first traced back to 1972 when Psychologists Shelley Duval and Robert Wicklund’s developed the theory of self-awareness.

They proposed that:

When we focus our attention on ourselves, we evaluate and compare our current behavior to our internal standards and values. We become self-conscious as objective evaluators of ourselves.

In essence, they considered self-awareness as a major mechanism of self-control.

Psychologist Daniel Goleman has proposed another definition of self-awareness in his best-selling book “Emotional Intelligence” as,

Knowing one’s internal states, preference, resources and intuitions.

Daniel Goleman

Now, even though self-awareness is an extremely important skill to use for improving all areas of your life, it actually does take some time to develop.

But the benefits are well worth the effort should you go through with it. 

So, here are some methods you can use to start developing greater self-awareness:

1. Keep a journal of some kind.

This is a powerful tool for learning about yourself.

Spend 15 minutes each evening recording your life, and specifically the lesson of the day.

List the meaningful things that happened that day.

Include your challenges and what you think caused them.

Ask yourself:

  • What did you do well?
  • What did you do poorly?
  • What changes do you want to make?
  • How will you make those changes?

2. Review your past and current relationships.

Review your romantic and platonic relationships that didn’t work out.

  • Why did your past relationships end?
  • Why did they fail?
  • What can you learn from this?

Now, consider your current relationships and ask yourself,

  • What challenges do they face?

And more importantly,

  • What do you bring to each relationship, positive and negative?
    1. What qualities do you like in a friend or partner?
    2. What qualities do you represent or avoid?
    3. Why?

3. Consider your biggest regrets?

We usually learn more from our past failures and regrets than from successes.

One reason for this is probably because pain tends to intensify our focus far more than success.

We actively look for the reasons why things blew up in our faces to avoid repeating the same pain again.

When we learn to turn our wounds into wisdom, we can actually learn quite a bit and propel ourselves forward rather than get stuck in the hurt or failure.

Good questions to consider include,

  • Where do you think you made poor decisions in your lifetime?
  • Why did you choose what you chose?
  • Why do you think these are regrets in the first place?
  • What changes would you make if you could go back in time?

4. Which challenges in your life are constant?

Most of us have a struggle that persists.

It might be our weight, finances, loneliness, depression, or a pervasive lack of satisfaction.


The issues that persist in your life are important to understand.


Because they indicate a place where we are stuck for some reason or another.

Since we have the power to change nearly anything in our lives, it’s important to consider why that one challenge in your life seems to persist?

  • Where have you become stuck?
  • Why are you stuck?
  • What are you avoiding?
  • Is there an unconscious fear that’s creating this ongoing issue?

5. Meditate.

I’m not an expert in meditation, but I do know that it gives you the opportunity to observe your thoughts without judgement.

And you can learn a lot about yourself from the thoughts that pop up in your mind, especially when you observe them non-judgementally.

Meditation allows you to learn how to create space between your thoughts and your emotions.

If you want to learn more about meditation, there are heaps of books on Amazon, as well as experts online who can teach you what you need to know.

6. View your life through the eyes of someone else.

This is actually a very powerful exercise to do – imagine you were an invisible stranger that observed your life for a week.

  • What would you think?
  • What do you notice?
  • What do you notice is missing?
  • What advice would you have for yourself?
  • What do the way you spend your time, energy, and money say about you?

7. Think about how you deal with stress.

Stress is a killer – literally.

In fact, The World Health Organization has called stress the “health epidemic of the 21st century.”

Yet, many people don’t consider themselves to be “stressed” at all.

During my early years at Varsity, I got an ulcer because of stress but never suspected anything until my body started showing weird and painful symptoms.

How can that be?

Part of the problem lies in habituation.

People get so used to living with stress, they just don’t even feel it anymore so it leaks out in other ways.

People get used to having unresolved internal (sometimes subconscious) conflicts about things like work, business, health, relationships, self-esteem, or their living situation.

But, it does catch up to them at some stage or another.

So, it’s important to have self-awareness about how you deal with stress.

  • How do you handle stress in general?
  • How is that working for you?
  • Do you eat, drink alcohol, get sleepy, become grumpy, watch TV?
  • How do you treat others when you’re stressed?
  • What challenges have you caused for yourself by dealing with stress poorly?

PS. If you are under stress at the moment and are struggling to cope, please make an appointment to talk to someone. Even a friend will help.

8. Ask your friends for feedback.

Ask your friends to describe you.

Ask them to list your strengths and weaknesses.

Ask them, to be honest as sucking eggs won’t help you at all.

If you want to improve yourself, you sometimes need to see yourself as others close to you do.

This will give you invaluable information and insight into where you need to grow.

If you’re wondering why your marriage is struggling, and you have friends that can point out to you how you neglect your wife, that can save you from potential heartache later on.

9. List your goals, values, and priorities.

Creating the life that you are happy with, demands that you have self-awareness around what that actually looks like.

It also demands that you are clear about your goals, values, and priorities.

These things are the building blocks of the quality of any person’s life.

  • It’s therefore important to consider questions like,
  • What do you want to accomplish?
  • What life do you want to live?
  • What is important to you?
  • If your life were perfect, what would your day look like?

If you are unclear and lack self-awareness around what you’re aiming for in life, is virtually impossible to create a happy and satisfactory quality of life.

We all have different goals, values, and priorities, and that’s fine.

The important part is knowing and having self-awareness around what those are for you.

That’s the only way you can make sure they form part of your life – or any area of your life.

Take Away …

As I said at the start, self-awareness is one of the most important things you can possess, especially if you want to create the quality of life you want.

The key to enhancing your life is grounded in self-awareness.

Self-awareness is important for setting goals and creating the life you would most enjoy. 

And without self-awareness, you’re doomed to repeat your mistakes for the rest of your life.

This will also most likely take you further away from the things you would like to achieve and experience in your life.

Most of us are pretty good at figuring out what makes a friend or family member tick.

But, it’s much more challenging to develop the same understanding of yourself, i.e. self-awareness.

Fortunately, you spend so much time with yourself, that you have every opportunity to create the self-awareness you need.

Start by using the suggestions in this post.

If you have any comments or questions, leave them in the comments section below.

About the author 

Gideon Hanekom

Gideon Hanekom is the creator of TheRelationshipGuy.com, a renowned relationship blog that ranks among the top 50 relationship blogs in 2024. The website shares valuable insights on creating healthy relationships life. Gideon holds a Master's degree in theological studies and transitioned into professional counseling more than a decade ago. In addition, he since completed post-graduate studies in Psychology at Massey University. With over seventeen years of marriage to his wife and two children, Gideon brings both professional and personal experience to his relationship advice. His articles have been featured on respected platforms such as Marriage.com and The Good Men Project.

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